Habitat features influence catch rates of near-shore bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) in the Queensland Shark Control Program, Australia 1996-2012

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Haig, Jodie
Lambert, Gwladys
Sumpton, Wayne
Mayer, David
Werry, Jonathan
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Understanding shark habitat use is vital for informing better ecological management of coastal areas and shark populations. The Queensland Shark Control Program (QSCP) operates over ∼1800 km of Queensland coastline. Between 1996 and 2012, catch, total length and sex were recorded from most of the 1992 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) caught on drum lines and gill-nets as part of the QSCP (sex and length was not successfully recorded for all individuals). Gear was set at multiple sites within ten locations. Analysis of monthly catch data resulted in a zero-inflated dataset for the 17 years of records. Five models were trialled for suitability of standardising the bull shark catch per unit effort (CPUE) using available habitat and environmental data. Three separate models for presence-absence and presence-only were run and outputs combined using a delta-lognormal framework for generalized linear and generalized additive models. The delta-lognormal generalized linear model approach resulted in best fit to explain patterns in CPUE. Greater CPUE occurred on drum lines, and greater numbers of bull sharks were caught on both gear types in summer months, with tropical sites, and sites with greater adjacent wetland habitats catching consistently more bull sharks compared to sub-tropical sites. The CPUE data did not support a hypothesis of population decline indicative of coastal overfishing. However, the total length of sharks declined slightly through time for those caught in the tropics; subtropical catches were dominated by females and a large proportion of all bull sharks caught were smaller than the size-at-maturity reported for this species. These factors suggest that growth and sex overfishing of Queensland bull shark populations may be occurring but are not yet detectable in the available data. The data highlight available coastal wetlands, river size, length of coastline and distance to the 50 m depth contour are important for consideration in future whole of lifecycle bull shark management. As concerns for shark populations grow, there is an increasing requirement to collate available data from control programs, fisheries, ecological and research datasets to identify sustainable management options and enable informed stock assessments of bull shark and other threatened shark species.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science

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Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified

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